Conveyor belt sushi restaurants, or "kaiten sushi", are really something that need to be experienced if you are traveling to Japan. They are reasonably priced, starting at around 100¥ per plate, and you have the choice of picking your plate from the conveyor belt, or ordering it freshly prepared by the chef. It's a place to go for a cheap meal, and a place to get "the Japanese experience". Moreover these types of restaurants are vegan friendly. Whether you find yourself in a Japanese city with a limited amount of vegan restaurants, it might be a good idea to visit a kaiten zushi, as every city will have them.
Photo: David Lisbona on Flickr
Popular Vegan Menu Items
Most conveyor belt sushi restaurants will have at least five vegan sushi available. Most of them will be makis. But in addition to this, other side dishes or sushi can be part of the menu. Each sushi plate is often listed on the menu with a picture, and with their names in Japanese (kanij). If you can´t read kanji be sure to ask for an English menu, as the restaurant might have this. If not, here is a complied list of vegan items with their Japanese names:
Kappa maki (かっぱまき) – Cucumber maki
A very popular vegan maki with cumber slices and rice wrapped in nori.
This menu item will be in the lower price category and will most typically come in four or two pieces.
Ume shiso maki (梅しそまき) - Pickled plum and shiso leaf maki
Picked plum and the popular Japanese herb shiso, with rice wrapped in nori makes a delicious taste. Like the kappa maki, this sushi will be one of the lower priced items on the menu.
Cucumber and Ume sushi
Shinko maki (新香まき) – Pickled radish maki
This is a pickled maki that can come in different varieties depending on the restaurant, and is a popular vegan option. It is also in the lower price category and is most often served in four smaller pieces.
Natto maki (納豆まき) – Fermented soy bean maki
This sushi is for the brave! If you haven't had natto before, now is a good time to try it. Remember that natto is fermented soy beans – meaning that the beans will be smelly and slimy. This is an acquired taste for someone who did not grow up eating this and you are allowed not to like it. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants will always have natto maki on the menu and it´s also one of the cheapest plates.
Photo: Toshihiro Gamo on Flickr
Kanpyo maki (干瓢巻き) – Dried gourd maki
Dried gourd maki is also easily available on the menu, and a great vegan option. The gourd might be chewy and unusual at first, but not as exotic as the natto maki. Different restaurants might have different variations of this. Also usually priced as one of the cheapest plates.
Photo: juicyrai on Flickr
Nasu nigiri (なす握り) – Eggplant nigiri
Nasu nigiri is also a vegan sushi option that can be found at many restaurants. It is simply fried eggplant served on top of rice. Sometimes the eggplant will be garnished with sweet miso paste or chopped white raddish.
This specific sushi dish might be priced higher than the other vegan options.
Inari sushi (いなり) – Rice served in fried tofu pockets
Inari sushi is in most cases vegan (very rarely the tofu pocket might be fried with fish sauce) and is simply cooked rice packed in fried tofu pockets. They are served in pair on each plate and will also be among one of the cheapest plate options.
Photo: Ocdp on Wikimedia Commons
Desserts and Side Menu Items
In addition to the vegan sushi options at kaiten zushi restaurants, the menu will often also include some side dishes that are vegan. These include fried potatoes, noodle bowls (remember that the sauce is most often not vegan, so use your table soy sauce instead), edamame beans and others. Look for pictures in the menu, or simply ask a staff member if you are unsure of something.
Some bigger restaurants will even have some dessert options and some of these can often be vegan. Some accidentally vegan dessert items served at some kaiten zushi may be mochi (rice cakes) fried sweet potatoes in syrup and different kanten (seaweed derived) based jellies.
Photo: Tammy Green on Wikimedia Commons
Depending on the restaurant you go to, there can be as many as 15 vegan items on the menu, making it a very good choice for food if you are a vegan traveling in Japan, or just simply enjoy plant based options. This type of restaurant is also a very good option for a vegan to go to with non-vegan friends, as there will always be plant based foods on the menu.
More and more conveyor belt sushi restaurants are even starting to offer more vegan options, to cater to the growing trend of veganism in Japan, as well as the stream of tourists. Especially in bigger cities as Tokyo, you will find conveyor belt sushi restaurants particularly popular for their vegan varieties.